Urban Services

“Practical Action aims to achieve 'inclusive services: liveable cities', where poor people can enjoy at least a basic level of services as part of their human rights, and the foundation on which they can improve their well-being, and live the life they value”


Lessons in Urban Community Led Total Sanitation from Nakuru, Kenya

Community led total sanitation (CLTS) is an innovative methodology for mobilising communities to eliminate open defecation. Practical Action and Umande Trust implemented the project 'Realising...


Sanitation in community-led slum upgrading: challenges for scaling up

Sanitation is often among the priority problems that slum dwellers identify through participatory planning methodologies. There are actions that communities themselves can take to address this,...


Technology Justice and Faecal Sludge Management

Tackling the second-generation sanitation challenge in South Asia. While globally rates of access to improved sanitation remain woefully low, Bangladesh stands out as a country that has made...


Agenda for Change

Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH) and waste management are critical services that the urban poor have a right to. People’s lives are severely affected without them: their health is at risk, they use considerable amounts of time, and they often pay more for services than their richer neighbours.

water sanitation Bangladesh urban services
Children stand by a water pump, Bangladesh

Without these services, people face a loss of dignity and the feeling of acute exclusion from ‘normal’ life. The problem is not generally one of availability- near neighbours in better off parts of the city have good access to sanitation and waste disposal- but of access in ways which are affordable and appropriate to people’s needs.

Practical Action argues that delivery models need to create space for the informal sector, which is already a significant provider of urban services where formal services are absent. We believe that poor people need to be a leading partner in decision making about the allocation of resources and monitoring their expenditure; and about appropriate designs, delivery and management of WASH and waste management services. Municipalities and city governments are also central to this process, and need to be recognised as such.

Various governments and donors have made good commitments to increase funding to WASH and waste management but the struggle is now to ensure these are honoured. The targeting of this aid is also problematic. Not enough of it goes to sanitation, and in urban areas, very little of it reaches the poor. The majority of funding for improving sanitation is put towards improving existing sewer systems, for example, rather than reaching those currently beyond the reach of such services.


Goals for Policy and Practice

Our policy influencing approach to urban services is based on research and operational experience gained over many years in South Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Involving people in decision making is central to our work, through the use of participatory approaches and technological innovation that is in line with the principles of technology justice. Participation and technology are critical to ensure a sustainable, fair and just future for all.

  • We will call on the international community, national and local governments to recognise the severity of the lack of access to adequate WASH and waste management services in urban areas. Recognition must include:
    • Publishing data for access to services, which is disaggregated by wealth quintiles, or for slum areas compared to the rest of the city.
    • Re-setting and using locally relevant poverty lines for urban areas.
    • Within the post-2015 framework, aiming for universal access to sanitation at home in urban areas, universal access to life in an open discharge free environment (as well as open defecation free), and urban-relevant standards for water quality and accessibility.
  • In line with the End Water Poverty ask to ‘Keep Your Promises’, we will hold governments accountable to the commitments they have made, for example Ngor Declaration (2015) made at AfricaSan4 together with the Sharm-el-Sheik declaration to provide transparency on sanitation spending separately from water and the aspiration to spend a minimum of 0.5% of GDP on sanitation and hygiene.
  • We will seek greater recognition for the role and value that poor communities can play as part of the solution to inadequate urban services. We will continue to work alongside and in partnership with grassroots organisations such as WIEGO and Slum Dwellers International, and use our role as a lead partner in the World Urban Campaign and our involvement in the End Water Poverty Campaign.
  • We will recommend that agencies design policies and programmes for WASH and waste management that recognise the urban context and benefit the urban poor. Including:
    • Greater policy coherence in sanitation, and between people dealing with sewerage and on-site sanitation.
    • Greater recognition of the role of local government and its capacity needs.
    • More attention to how to achieve Open Defecation Free (ODF) areas in urban slums, moving away from focusing on toilet construction alone,
    • Finding new solutions to ensure adequate faecal sludge management across the sanitation chain, making space for and recognising the contribution of the existing informal sector.
    • Greater consideration to water quality not only at the tap, but also in storage in households and at the point of use, while ensuring on-going access by the poor to a diverse range of water sources (including ground and surface water).
    • Greater recognition for the contribution of the informal sector in waste management, using market-based approaches to channelling more value from waste to very poor collectors and recyclers.

Flagship Projects

Total sanitation

Total sanitation

Nakuru slums
Urban waste pickers

Urban waste pickers

Urban planning

Urban Participatory Planning

South Asia

Urban Services blog posts

  • Imagine bringing up your toddler here?
    I recently visited Kisumu, Kenya, where Practical Action is working with two local partner organisations (KUAP and Umande Trust) in a five-year project to transform the sanitation situation for 64,200 residents of the city’s informal settlements. We visited families to understand the extreme challenges faced by parents and carers looking after children under 5 years. As a Mum of two, the youngest of whom turns 6 next month, I could easily make comparisons. There are so many different stages babies, […]
  • Talking shit at FSM4 Conference – Feedback on our sanitation work in Bangladesh
    Talking about shit for a week in India — a fascinating context to present our sanitation work! India, a country that has undertaken a huge and ambitious national scale clean-up campaign (Swachh Bharat/Clean India Mission), hosted the 4th Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Conference in Chennai this February. In total, 1,100 practitioners, governments and private sector representatives from all over the world participated in the conference. This was a truly unique sharing and visibility opportunity for our organisation. As a result, we ran out of our […]
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